OSAGE BEACH — During brief breaks from the intensive work sessions at its annual retreat this weekend, Columbia City Council members held impromptu talks with department heads and even cooled off with water-gun fights.
Holding the retreat outside Columbia allows the council members to dedicate their time and undivided attention to city business. Though there was some opportunity for play and relaxation, it was a working weekend. All totaled, the council and staff spent about 14 hours discussing city business.
“I was real pleased with this year’s program,” City Manager Ray Beck said. “We got as much done here in a day and a half as we would get done over months in Columbia.”
The 33rd annual retreat followed Beck’s State of the City address on Wednesday and gave staff the opportunity to brief the council and get feedback on ongoing projects and programs.
“The retreat allows staff to get general direction from the council as to what they want brought to them for public discussion and get a strategy for next year’s budget,” Beck said.
Equipped with direction from the council, Beck will introduce a proposed budget in July. The council will then hold a series of work sessions and public hearings before giving final approval to a budget for fiscal 2005, which begins Oct. 1. Unless it makes changes to the business calendar, the council must approve the budget by its second meeting in September.
The first work session tackled at the retreat, which began Friday at the Inn at Grand Glaize, was an in-depth review of how the current city budget matches early projections for actual spending in the first half of fiscal 2004.
City Finance Director Lori Fleming told the council the city is right on track with its general fund budget.
The budget had forecast 2.25 percent growth in sales tax revenue over 2003, but after the first six months of the fiscal year, Fleming has raised that prediction to 3.75 percent growth.
The need to create and maintain adequate infrastructure to keep pace with the city’s growth emerged as the No. 1 priority during the next fiscal year. The council also listed sidewalk construction along the Broadway corridor as a priority for fiscal 2005.
The need to boost fire protection also came up. Fire Chief Bill Markgraf told the council that to keep pace with growth, the city should consider dedicating resources to building another fire station and hiring new staff.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless suggested the city should streamline general emergency response and avoid sending full crews and fire engines to relatively minor mishaps. That, he said, would free firefighters to respond to fire-related emergencies.
“My goal is to figure out how to get the best protection and emergency response for the citizens of Columbia,” Loveless said.
The Columbia City Council discussed a host of major issues at its annual retreat Friday and Saturday. Highlights included:
- An alert by Water and Light Director Dan Dasho that the city needs to begin preparing for new sources of electricity, especially after 2008. The city has several options, including becoming partners in a power plant construction project in Illinois or building a power plant here in Columbia.
- A review of a grant application that would increase the state’s share of funding for the Career Awareness and Related Experience program. CARE educates youngsters and places them with employers throughout the city.
- A discussion of the potential for expanding Columbia Transit’s hours of operation. The city is already preparing to implement significant changes in transit routes next month.
- Proposals to rent more downtown space for the Police Department and Water and Light offices.
- An update on an effort by Regional Economic Development Inc. to establish a foreign trade zone in Columbia. Such federally designated areas are considered to be outside U.S. Customs territory and are therefore largely exempt from customs fees and U.S. duties and taxes.
- Planning for the allocation of $1.3 million in city money to buy part of the Philips tract in southeast Columbia for a city park.
- An update on the progress of development at Stephens Lake Park. Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said he hopes to have the lake open for swimming by mid-summer.